Jorge (Jorge Machado), Alamar’s protagonist, says in the opening still-photomontage that he prefers to be “in the middle of the jungle at the sea, in the middle of nowhere.” It’s a considerable leap from the feeling of his ex-wfe who has decided to leave Mexico for Rome with their seven-year old son Natan (Natan Machado Palombini). Natan is thrown in the middle of two worlds at odds: his mother’s city, only present in the opening moments of the film, and his father’s “jungle at the sea.” Natan spends time with his dad in the remote region of Banco Chinchorro, at the house of Jorge’s father, Néstor (Néstor Marín Matraca) — a cabin on stilts in the shallows off shore — before he leaves for Rome.
The film’s most fascinating and gripping moments, however, are the weighted silences between father and son — Jorge and Natan, Jorge and Néstor. Director Pedro González-Rubio brilliantly captures the ways in which relationships are formed by silence. Without overtly sentimental scenes where lessons are surely learned, Jorge and Natan reveal their love with relative subtlety. The weight of inevitability in the film gives it momentum: you know from the opening scene exactly how this will end, but the heft of the relationships keeps you stuck in their world, interested in the chemistry of the father-son relationship. The film is short and succinct, and for that it is of a rare breed within the world of independent and neo-neo-realist films. It only says what it needs to say and then gets out.
While Alamar is glacially slow, with moments when the camera perhaps lingers a little longer than is comfortable, the beauty of the natural world emerges and collides with Jorge and Natan giving these long shots purpose. Besides, Alamar is less plot and more feeling: the two spend their time fishing for food, searching for money, cooking and eating, making friends with an egret Natan names Blanquita, and feeding crocodiles off their porch. The film’s silence is consuming and its patience unnerving. The lyrical cinematography is of the most beautiful nature documentaries you’ve ever seen, overlaid with a sort of revised neo-realism. In many ways, the film negotiates the characters much like Carlos Reygadas — with an intimate distance. No coincidence that Reygadas’ company produced the film, while Reygadas’ cinematographer of choice, Alexis Zabe, did some of the underwater photography.
The slow progression of the relationship between Jorge and Natan has the air of the genuine performances De Sica pulled from the non-actors he worked with. But González-Rubio might go a step closer to that authenticity, because this is their real life. It really is Natan’s final stay with his father before he moves to Rome, causing the film to drift somewhere between documentary and narrative cinema. González-Rubio (who was also the primary cinematographer) follows them on their trip as a documentarian, but moments are staged to aid in the storytelling. But it never matters. The film doesn’t beg so much for structural clarity as it does for stoic posture, willing to accept the huge natural world and this small relationship as the kind of window we hope for the cinema to provide. No, Alamar is not perfect, but it strives after something worthwhile. In a cinematic landscape defined by auteurs and structuralism, González-Rubio chooses neither. When asked at the Toronto International Film Festival if he would categorize Alamar as “documentary” or “fiction,” González-Rubio simply replied, “It is a film.”